Tammi Walker’s Pursuit of Inclusivity, Equality and Procedural Fairness Earns her UArizona Early Career Scholar Award, NSF Funding

May 25, 2022

University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law Associate Professor of Law and Psychology Tammi Walker, PhD, has been named one of the University of Arizona’s 2022 Faculty Award winners, the highest faculty honor that the university bestows. Dr. Walker is a recipient of the Early Career Scholars Award, which recognizes outstanding early career faculty who are at the forefront of their disciplines and make highly valued contributions to the teaching, creative activity, and service priorities set out in the university's Strategic Plan. 

"I cannot fully express my appreciation for having been chosen to receive this award in a few words,” said Dr. Walker. “It means so much, but the most significant honor must go to my colleagues who have supported my scholarship and me over the past few years."  

Dr. Walker joined the University of Arizona faculty in 2018. An experienced litigator and a trained research psychologist, her research interests focus on procedural fairness and the administration of justice.  

“Dr. Walker is not an ivory tower intellectual but rather an innovative researcher who is willing to tackle some of society’s most challenging problems with the tools of quantitative and qualitative social science,” noted Barbara Atwood the Mary Anne Richey Professor of Law Emerita. “Broadly viewed, all of her research projects are consistent with the goal of advancing inclusivity, equality of opportunity, and procedural fairness.” 

Interdisciplinary Research  

Dr. Walker’s work engages in interdisciplinary topics ranging from procedural justice in campus sexual assault investigations to strategies to diversify the legal profession

In an upcoming study, she observed how varying evidentiary standards used in campus sexual misconduct investigations affect enforcement rates and victim reporting behaviors. In another, she explored the influence of the #MeToo movement on outcomes in campus sexual misconduct cases. 

“Without a doubt, Dr. Walker’s ongoing scholarship on campus sexual misconduct adjudicative procedures is profoundly significant. In the midst of the heated national debate on this subject, her clear-eyed research has paved the way for concrete reforms through which universities can improve student cooperation and compliance,” added Atwood. 

Her work has also sought to understand the most effective mechanisms for increasing diversity within the legal profession. Through collaborations with the Arizona State Bar and the University of Arizona BA in Law program, she has studied whether female and underrepresented minority students in law school or on a pre-law trajectory hold communal-oriented goals at greater rates or to greater degrees than members of other groups. In addition, the group is reviewing how positions of power within the legal profession can be reconfigured and recast to better match members of the profession who are oriented toward collective goals and values. Dr. Walker recently received a Department of Psychology grant to pursue these theories of goal congruity and cultural mismatch through data collection among law student populations to identify barriers to entry in the legal profession for underrepresented students. 

Using Technology to Improve Law 

In May, Dr. Walker and Ravi Tandon, an associate professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, were awarded funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to engage in research about the construction and use of algorithms in juvenile justice systems, particularly in the use of risk assessment instruments in criminal justice and the limitations of machine learning.  

“Our project brings together new inter-disciplinary perspectives from privacy, fairness, and machine learning to juvenile justice, which can potentially lead to greater confidence and trust in the administration of risk assessment tools. In particular, this project introduces the statistical notion of individual fairness to juvenile risk assessment, which has the potential to enhance efforts to reduce racial and ethnic inequality within the juvenile justice system by being consistent with more contemporary notions of disparity,” explained Dr. Walker. “Furthermore, this project will introduce discussions regarding agency and data privacy where none exist.  And we hope to be able to provide a foundation for the development of risk assessment tools that incorporate the impact of change as a result of suitable interventions, a feature that is not currently a part of most assessments but is nevertheless incredibly important for developing youth.” 

The funding was received from NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program, and Early-concept grant(s) for Exploratory Research and can be used for early-stage work that has the potential to be transformative.